Law is a set of rules which forms a framework for a society. These are enforced by mechanisms created by the state and sanctioned through penalties. In some cases, these rules also include a moral basis such as concepts of natural justice or the will of God.
In a democracy, law provides a means for citizens to hold their government accountable. It ensures that people face the same consequences for breaking the rules, regardless of their wealth or social status. In addition, laws should be transparent and easily accessible so that all people can understand them. It is important that people can collaborate with their government in shaping the law to meet their needs.
While the concept of law is a broad one, there are many different subfields. For example, immigration law involves the rights of foreigners to live and work in a country that is not their own and to acquire or lose citizenship. Family law focuses on marriage and divorce proceedings and the rights of children. Labour law encompasses the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, and it includes collective bargaining regulation and the right to strike. Biolaw combines the study of law with the life sciences.
A common feature of modern legal systems is that the rules are written, although they can be amended by courts based on experience and principles of equity. These rules are typically compiled into books called statutes and case law. Some countries, such as the United States, use a system of common law while others use civil law traditions that are written and enforced by judges.
The main purposes of the law are to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities and promote social justice. The way in which a nation implements the law reflects its political and cultural character. An authoritarian government may be able to fulfil these functions, but it may also oppress minorities and control the flow of information. A democratic state, on the other hand, is a more inclusive and tolerant community that does not limit its protections to particular groups.
In some societies, the law is a complex and ever-changing process that has to be constantly updated to reflect new ideas and needs. Modern military, policing and bureaucratic power over ordinary citizens’ daily lives pose special problems for accountability that Max Weber and other writers could not have foreseen.
For this reason, legal systems often require multiple stages of research and analysis to determine “what the law is”. First, one must ascertain the facts. Next, one must locate any relevant statutes and cases and extract principles, analogies and statements by various courts about how they have interpreted the law in the past. Finally, one must decide what the likelihood is that a court will adopt the same interpretation of the facts in a given case. Decisions of appellate courts are usually binding, while decisions of lower courts only have persuasive authority.